Bottling!

March 19, 2012

 

 

 

Today is the big day, we’re bottling our 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (made from our Estate grown organic fruit), our 2010 Monte Rosso Zinfandel, and our 2010 Monte Rosso Petite Sirah (this is actually the first varietal Petite Sirah we’ve ever made here). The mobile line rolled in and set up on Friday morning to be ready to start first thing today.

It was still raining pretty steadily on Friday, and we were worried it would still be raining during bottling. Since the cases have to be moved from inside the winery out to the truck, this could have presented a problem (cardboard does not like water). Fortunately the weather dried up for just in time for us and we were able to get our bottling done without a snag.

Getting ready for bottling also involved our staging all of the dry goods. Dry goods include everything that goes into the package that isn’t the wine itself; in our case that would be bottles, labels, corks, and capsules. A lot of our dry goods are used in more than one product (for instance, the 2010 Monte Rosso Zinfandel and Petite Sirah both use the same corks), and a lot of them are unique to individual products (like labels, obviously you couldn’t put a Zinfandel label on a Petite Sirah bottle, even though the corks are the same). Even for a small, artisanal winery like us, things can get confusing. It is therefore crucial to keep the dry goods extremely well organized.

These pallets are separated out by product, if a box of corks or labels is destined for one particular wine, it is marked and then set on the pallet that will be set outside when that wine is bottled. Getting the dry goods mixed up would be a very costly mistake.

Once everything was in place, we went ahead and set the bottling line running.

Bottling is hard work. The wine is slowly pumped into the filler inside the truck from the bottling tank. Empty glass is loaded in the back of the truck, and a conveyor carries it to the filler, which in turn fills it with wine. The bottles then pass through the corker, the capsuler, and the labeler before being brought back to the rear of the truck where they are repacked into cases which are then loaded onto pallets by hand.

It’s a lot of work getting ready to bottle, but once you get started it’s generally over in a pretty big hurry. Bottling is a potentially risky activity because once the wine is in the bottle you can’t really correct any mistakes you make. Fortunately everything went fine today. It’s a relief to have these fantastic wines safely in the bottle!

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Winterizing the Vineyards

November 29, 2011

 

 

The weather is really starting to cool down, so we’re getting the vineyards ready for the first frost. Since the vines are quickly going through the process of going dormant, the biggest concern we have is getting the irrigation lines open so that the water inside doesn’t burst the pipes. The principle is similar to winterizing the pipes in a house, all of the water lines have to be left unsealed so that the expansion of any ice that forms doesn’t damage them.

To drain the lines, we first closed them off from the water supply tanks at the top of the hill. When we opened the valves down in the vineyards, gravity emptied most of the water out.

 Another interesting thing going on in our vineyards right now is that our cover crops are starting to sprout.

 

The little blades of grass are the Cayuse Oats, and the sprouts with the heart-shaped leaves are Mustard.All of the rain we've had over the last few weeks is really helping to kick the cover crops off. We're expecting them to be around knee-high by the end of December. It's important that we get a good start on our cover crop now so that it will be ready by the spring. Since we are organic grapegrowers we can't use any pesticides or herbicides, so we will need these plants in place to control weeds and pests when everything starts to wake up in the spring. The beans are larger than the other seeds, with a thicker seed coat, so they are taking a little longer to sprout. Still, you can find them starting to kick off if you look.

 

 To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

 

Seeding

November 3, 2011

 

 

As you may recall, we spent some time over the last few days discing our rows in preparation for seeding our cover crops. It looks like it will probably start raining here again in the next day or two, so we’re pushing to get as much of the seeding done as we can before the rain makes the rows difficult to get the tractor down.

We seed our cover crops by hand, workers walk down the rows with buckets of the seeds we want plant and toss them onto the ground.

Pictured here are some of the seeds we use for our cover crops. On the left is a Bell Bean, which will form a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil that will help to fix nitrogen out of the air, enriching the soil. Additionally, this plant will draw beneficial insects like ladybugs. Bell beans are not particularly good at suppressing weeds, so we plant Cayuse Oats (pictured on the right) along with them. Cayuse Oats help with weed suppression, and they produce a relatively high amount of biomass, so they will contribute plenty of decomposing green matter to the soil once they eventually get tilled under. Cover crops that get tilled into the soil are known as ‘green manure’.
Once the seeds are sown, we send a tractor down the row with an attachment that drags the soil flat, burying the seeds an inch or two below the surface so they can germinate.
 
Leveling out the soil in the Foxtrot block.

 It’s a fair amount of labor to get it done, but the quality of the organically farmed grapes we produce is worth it. Be sure to check back next week to see what we’re up to!

 
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.
 
 

Annual CCOF Inspection

October 13, 2011

 

 

Here at Amapola Creek, all of our estate vineyards are certified as organic. This means that we are very limited in what we are allowed to apply to our vines; no pesticides or artificial fertilizers. In turn, we need to do our farming differently from the start, planning to manage the soil, vines, and surrounding grounds in such a way that pests and diseases are suppressed naturally, and that soil quality is retained in a sustainable manner.

To prove that our practices are effective, we have our operations audited by an organization known as the CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). The CCOF sets the rules as to what practices and materials we are allowed to use in our vineyards, and how we should record what we do so as to prove that we are compliant.

This is the CCOF logo, and legally it can only go on products that have been certified by the CCOF as organic. All of our estate vineyards have been organic since they were planted, and the Belli Chardonnay was certified as organic in 2011. The only grapes that we currently process that are not from certified organic vines are the Monte Rosso Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. These grapes are still farmed in accordance with the rules of organic farming, but the owner of the grapes has chosen not to go through the certification process.

The winery itself is also certified by the CCOF as a ‘Certified Organic Handler’ (we got our certification in 2008, so even our estate products, made from organic grapes, from earlier vintages do not bear the CCOF logo). This means that we do not use any synthetic materials in our winemaking practices; no artificial nutrients, no genetically modified yeast (or even yeast grown on synthetic substrates), and no artificial additives or processing agents of any kind. This limits our options in winemaking to some extent, a number of remediation techniques that non-certified wineries can use are not available to us. So, we need to be careful to do things right the first time around, ensuring that every step is correct and the quality of the product is maintained throughout the process.

Once a year, an auditor comes from the CCOF and inspects our vineyards, winery and records to make sure that we are doing what we need to. Our inspection was this week.

The inspection and paperwork process is fairly extensive (unfortunately it fell during harvest this year), this is one of the reasons we haven't been posting as frequently here on the blog the last two days.

It’s a lot of extra work to maintain our certification, but we believe that it is worth it to be able to prove the quality of our product and the strength of our devotion to organic farming to our customers.

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.